Great Lakes Construction Repairs 1970s-Era Lytle Tunnel

The tunnel, which opened to traffic in 1970, carries I-71 under Lytle Park and Fourth and Fifth streets on the eastern edge of Cincinnati.

📅   Fri November 04, 2016 - Midwest Edition #23
Irwin Rapoport - CEG CORRESPONDENT


The Great Lake Construction Co. is nearly one year away from completing the Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) $30 million Interstate 71/Lytle Tunnel project in Cincinnati that began in May 2015. The work will be completed next fall.
The Great Lake Construction Co. is nearly one year away from completing the Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) $30 million Interstate 71/Lytle Tunnel project in Cincinnati that began in May 2015. The work will be completed next fall.
The Great Lake Construction Co. is nearly one year away from completing the Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) $30 million Interstate 71/Lytle Tunnel project in Cincinnati that began in May 2015. The work will be completed next fall.
The tunnel, which opened to traffic in 1970, carries I-71 under Lytle Park and Fourth and Fifth streets on the eastern edge of Cincinnati. 
The repair and renovation work is expected to extend the lifespan of the tunnel for several decades.

The Great Lake Construction Co. is nearly one year away from completing the Ohio Department of Transportation's (ODOT) $30 million Interstate 71/Lytle Tunnel project in Cincinnati that began in May 2015. The work will be completed next fall.

“The work is improving driver safety by bringing the tunnel and its systems in compliance with current fire codes and design standards,” said Brian Cunningham, an ODOT communications manager. “The project is upgrading lighting, repairing concrete and tiles and modernizing mechanical and ventilation systems. In addition, cameras and a fire detection system are being installed to allow more efficient and safer response time to incidents within the tunnel.”

The tunnel, which opened to traffic in 1970, carries I-71 under Lytle Park and Fourth and Fifth streets on the eastern edge of Cincinnati. The tunnel has three lanes of northbound I-71 traffic, two lanes of southbound traffic, and a single lane, southbound exit ramp to Third Street.

It took three years to build the tunnel, which carries 50,000 plus cars and trucks daily, and it received minor rehabilitations in 1991, 1995 and as part of the Fort Washington Way project in 2000.

The existing tunnels are of a cut and cover type construction, according to project documents. The three traffic tubes are separated by continuous full height walls. The tunnels are approximately 900 ft. (274 m) in length, are in fair condition and are included in ODOT's Bridge inventory.

The repair and renovation work is expected to extend the lifespan of the tunnel for several decades. The project is funded by state and federal gas taxes.

“It's on the interstate system and it's an important commuter and economic corridor for southwest Ohio,” said Cunningham. He said that the project was designed by Hatch Mott Macdonald LLC.

Crews will be installing a new power supply, which replaces the existing underground vaults in the Fourth Street sidewalk, moving ventilation grating to a location conducive to future park plans and the installing new access hatches at several locations within the park limits that will not impact future park plans.

A project of this scope impacts traffic, which includes weekend work at various times, ramp closures and detours. ODOT and Cincinnati have made an effort to minimize impacts for the 2015 Major League Baseball All Star Game organizers, Riverfest, Oktoberfest, Heart Mini Marathon and the Flying Pig events. The eastern portion of Lytle Park was closed during the tunnel construction work for nearly one year and the western side is currently closed.

“The project has been an inconvenience for some entering and existing downtown Cincinnati,” said Cunningham, “but people are adjusting and understanding the need for the work. We did a good public information outreach to inform commuters about the detours and upcoming work, and in particular, are working with the downtown business community to provide information that they can send to their customers and suppliers.”

Eric Reed, The Great Lakes Construction Co., project superintendent, has worked on similar projects and stressed the important role pre-planning plays in a successful project.

“Preparing for the project consisted of a lot scheduling meetings,” he said. “The initial ODOT project schedule was extremely aggressive, we spent the first couple weeks in scheduling and coordination meetings with our in-house staff and our major subcontractors — those coordination and scheduling meetings continue to this day.”

“The schedule is fluid — we are continually shifting manpower and subcontractors to get the work installed in the designated time-frame,” Reed said. “One of the advantages we have on a project of this scope is that we perform this type of work every day. Personally, and as a company we have built a lot of water and wastewater treatment plants, which are just as complex as this project. Coordination and scheduling is key. We are forecasting out sometimes as much as a year in advance to ensure we have all the right pieces and parts in place. We're not only working with ODOT, but Duke Energy, the city of Cincinnati, the Taft Museum, and coordinators of special events taking place in Cincinnati. It's been a challenge.”

So far the crews have completed the following benchmarks: structural concrete for the new fan vault, installation of all three 8-ft. (2.4 m) diameter axial fans in conjunction with the sound attenuators and soundproofing material, the removal of all the existing HVAC infrastructure, the removal of 95 percent of the existing lighting in the tunnels and the installation of new ventilation openings in the existing mechanical room. This had to be done via internal structural demolition so that the openings could be widened to allow for increased air-flow.

The remaining work includes: backfilling the eastern half of Lytle Park — to be completed at the end of November, installing the remainder of the tunnel lighting system, integration of the new SCADA system, integration of three new axial fans, powering up the switchgear and fan soft starts, installation of several isolation dampeners, completing barrier wall inside the tunnel, a new fire suppression system and installation of a closed-circuit television system.

“One of the major challenges has been the coordination between the design engineer, ODOT and Great Lakes,” said Reed. “The project was originally bid four years ago as a design-build project. The plans were never completely updated and there was a lot of ambiguity that needed to be cleared up initially. A lot of the design changes and infrastructure layout had to be modified in one way or another. This required a lot of phone conferences and coordination meetings between ODOT, Hatch Mott McDonald and Great Lakes.”

Reed says that solid progress is being made.

“We're in the fourth quarter,” he said. “The biggest immediate challenge is to complete the northbound tunnel in its entirety by November 20 — installing new lighting, linear heat detection systems, concrete barrier and asphalt pavement. I can only keep the 2nd Street ramp closed until November 20. After this is done, completing the southbound tunnel and ramp will be a breeze.”

According to Reed, safety issues are not being taken for granted.

“The biggest safety issue when working in a tunnel is that there's nowhere to go,” said Reed. “You are separated from live traffic, where the speed limit is 45 miles-per-hour but people are going 70 miles-per-hour and the only thing protecting you is a 32-inch tall concrete barrier wall. There are also some environmental concerns that we have to mitigate. Cutting concrete in an area where there is not a lot of natural airflow requires continuous air monitoring.”

There are between 30 and 60 Great Lakes and subcontractor workers on site on average day. Most of the work is done during day shifts, but for the last two months crews have been working 10-hour day and night shifts to complete the northbound tunnel.

Subcontractors include: Glenwood Electric for electrical; Debra Kuempel for HVAC; Superior Gunite for fire proofing; JP Phillips for tile; J&B for reinforcing steel; and Journey Steel for structural steel.

A lot of specialized work is being performed to upgrade the tunnel systems.

“We've completed many technically dense projects like this in the past — the scope of work wasn't surprising” said Reed, “but there's a lot more intricate electrical and HVAC work then what you would find in typical ODOT project.”

Great Lakes expects to remove 1,000 tons (907 m) of concrete, 20,000 cu. yds. (15,291 cu m) of soil and 27,000 sq. ft. (2, 508 sq m) of tile. For new construction materials, it anticipates using 10,000 cu. yds. (7,645 cu m) concrete, 20,000 lbs. (9,071 kg) of structural steel, 17,000 sq. ft. (1,579 sq m) of tile, 1.6 million lbs. (725,747 kg) of reinforcing steel, and miles of new cable and conduit.

“I'm installing $30 million worth of work in a one-quarter of an acre area,” said Reed. “The work zones are 17 feet wide, so everything falls back to coordination. I meet with the subcontractors every Monday and we go through material deliveries – who's bringing in what and we work out a hierarchy of importance on what facilities must be set in place first. Materials get shipped from the manufacturer right to the job site and are put up. Every subcontractor has a critical path. For example, one of the first things we do is remove tile from certain sections so that the fireproofers can get their material up. It then has to be painted before the electrical contractors can hang up the lights. It's a domino effect.”

For this project, Great Lakes is using a Manitowoc 111 crane, a Link-Belt 50-ton (45.4 t) rough terrain crane, a John Deere 245 excavator, Cat skid steers, Cat mini-excavators and JLG manlifts.

Dealerships that supplied the equipment include Ohio CAT and for rentals, Sunbelt Rentals.

Reed has an onsite field mechanic, and rented equipment is repaired by the dealerships. Demolition equipment includes mechanical and hydraulic drilling and splitting.

“We're one of a handful of companies that own a hydraulic rock splitter, which is used to split very thick concrete,” said Reed. “They are working 20 hours a day and need continuous monitoring.”

Reed expressed an appreciation for the work that went into building the tunnel.

“We use a lot of technology today to build tunnels and the quality of the work that was performed in the 1960s was excellent — it's very humbling. I could visualize their work because we still do a lot of things the same way. We've learned some things in regards to hydraulics and how materials impacts certain forming structures, but the way we do things is pretty much the same.”

Crews often find messages left behind on major projects like this and on July 20, 2015, a message was found while removing acoustic panels next to the fans.

“As we took the last panels out,” Reed said, “we found a newspaper clipping shoved between one of the panels and a message written on the panel that said 'Good luck tearing this job down. Don't bid on a state job or you'll lose your ass.' We found that funny because the newspaper date was the exact same day we took the panels out.”